It’s ages since I met up with my cousin Russell, so it was great to find we were both free and up for a walk on Sunday. Russell suggested a route which was for both of us a real trip down memory lane, places close to Guildford centre yet ones which I haven’t been to in literally decades.
We made our way up to Pewley Down by a route new to me but which took in the flat Russell lived in with his father, Frank in his mid and later teens. Pewley Down, like elsewhere on this walk, is a place I have walked so many times with my immediate family, and of course that included the dogs. In my mind I can see my black Labrador Tessa hobnobbing with the dogs being walked there, rushing off for a mad game for several minutes, then returning to us, her tongue lolling and her face a happy grin. Our wire haired dachshund was more reserved, and would watch, enviously I sometimes thought. Pewley Down has always been a special place to me, and that was confirmed on Sunday.
We continued along the narrow path of the Pilgrims’ Way. There were more people, more dogs than I remembered. Then the gradual climb to St Martha’s Chapel, a place my parents both loved. If we ever had visitors from Ireland or Canada they would always be taken to St Martha’s. The horse service, where there was always a donkey, was an annual fixture of family life.
We stopped there for a while. Russell was telling me about his mother-in-law, now in a care home, her body needing that care, and her mind alive and active. I ate some of my lunch. Russell, for reasons unexplained, had left his in his car.
A lift to the city is not to be sniffed at, especially where a suitcase, however small is involved. Kathryn needed to get to work, and Johnny who could have opened for a well earned lie in, kindly drove the pair of us down. Buttons came for the ride, sitting on my knee most of the way, alternately watching out of the window, licking the back of the front passenger seat, or looking me in the eye. She is a very sweet dog, very affectionate and loving. I should have got up half an hour earlier and then she could have the walk she so clearly thought I was going to give her. However, Johnny plans to take her out later so she’ll be happy. I’d say she’s a daddy’s girl, but then she’s also a mummy’s girl, the boys’ girl. In short, the perfect family dog.
The lift into town meant I got an earlier bus out to the airport than anticipated. So I shall be hanging around departure for a while. It meant no worry about getting through security in time for my flight, or filling my water bottle at the unbelievably slow water dispenser. My main fear is getting too relaxed and missing the announcement that the gate has opened.
After a wet and noisily windy night, the day is beautiful, blue skies and sunshine on the fields about. Before I came the forecast was a week of unrelenting rain, but other than a light spattering yesterday evening, the rain has been at night. I spent much of yesterday at cultural pursuits. In 2017 I saw Girl From the North Country during its first run in London. If memory serves correctly, I saw it a second time during that run. I see a lot of theatre, but much of it becomes a blur. Not the case with Girl From the North Country. So when I realised it was on at the Grand Opera House during my stay in Belfast, I treated myself to a ticket at the matinee. It was also a treat to get inside the opera house whose exterior I have long admired. Arriving some time in advance of the performance, I was able to explore and study some of the displays. There was a photograph of a very young James Nesbitt sporting lots of curly hair. Without the caption, I am not sure I’d have recognised him. All the greats have played there, everyone from Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, through Laurence Olivier and Morecombe and Wise, to Kenneth Branagh with then wife Emma Thompson in a production directed by Judi Dench. On Wednesday night I was at the Lyric theatre for a performance of Romeo and Juliet, a production based on an adaptation by my Johnny’s sister Anne. Portraits, both paintings and photographs, adorned the public areas. There was Adrian Dunbar with locks to rival those of young Nesbitt; Brian Friel looking serious, Liam Neeson looking craggy, Stella McCusker looking serene.
Uncle Bill had a good birthday do. We were a smallish group. It looked for a while as though it might be smaller as we could not find the rear entrance to Tom and Meta’s house where we had agreed to meet them. It made us late, and Michele, who began to worry, sent me a message to check we had the day right.
Tom has had a couple of strokes, and is not so steady on his feet, but there’s nothing wrong with his memory or his story relating skills. Uncle Bill was soon smiling and chuckling as some of the exploits of his cousins were recounted. Our generation seems a sober, unadventurous lot in comparison.
I gave him a Master Bo’sun calendar as I always do, and a Mr Horace Papers card about Stormont. I thought it would entertain him, but for a few short moments I had misgivings as he wore a very serious expression as he studied it. Then his face broke into a wide smile and he started to laugh. Phew.
I can’t say I am comforted by the news about the numbers of people contracting Covid in the U.K.. Right now it seems Northern Ireland has the highest number of cases per capita. That said, I feel very safe here in the country. The rain came as promised today. My shoes are not waterproof, so the dogs had to make do with a game of football in the garden. They are keener on possession than passing, so we had two footballs, two games really. Westie Boy became rather excited, maybe it was the joy of having had his stitches removed. He grabbed my jeans when I moved to play with Poppy, something he has never done before. We played until the next shower and then came in. The vet was impressed with the striped pyjamas Westie Boy is wearing to keep his healing wounds clean. She said he should continue wearing them. Right now he is asleep on a cushion beside me. I am not keen on dressing up cats and dogs, but I have to admit he looks very sweet, and he certainly isn’t bothered by them. Nor does he look like a dog who would actively ran after a bigger dog to pick a fight. Appearances can be deceptive.
Cousin decided I should have a fire, so she lit the wood burning stove, and for much of today I have been feeding it, then retreating to the sofa to watch yet another episode of Baptiste, a series Cousin has got me hooked on. I have the window open, but it’s all rather a contrast with the hot weather of just two days ago. Poppy’s walks have been going well, and Westie Boy has now been given leave to join us. But it was when I was with Poppy alone a few nights ago that I saw the badgers. There were three of them, playing in the driveway leading up to a neighbours house. I think they were probably young. I have looked for them each time I have passed the house since, but no sign.
I think the weather is going to break tomorrow or Sunday. Yesterday I did virtually nothing other than sit in the shade drinking mint tea or water, read and just enjoy being. Today seems to hold much of the same. Last night Poppy the overweight Labrador decided it was still too hot at 8.30 to walk, so after just a few hundred yards we turned back. I thought I’d walk her this morning, but by 9.00 the sun was already beating down. There’s little shelter from the sun for much of our walk, so exercise is again deferred.
Next week I’m hoping to see Uncle Bill on Monday, meet up with Fiona one day and see my friend Jo on Friday. Rain is forecast for the latter part of the week, but only light rain, so I think we’ll cope. I’m sure to be back in Belfast anyway.
ideally I’d like to revisit the exhibition on La Belle Époque with Charlotte McReynolds, it’s curator, but as the pandemic rolls on, and numbers continue to rise while our freedom to spread and contract it remains uncurtailed, curators tours are unlikely to happen. In place of government leadership requiring us to exercise caution, individual businesses and venues are having to step up to the plate.
It’s our anniversary: ten years since I brought MasterB, then called Facebook, home. He was young, less than a year at a guess, infested with fleas. He didn’t want to be removed from the students who had rescued him from the mean streets of Brighton, and I didn’t want a timid cat who hid behind the curtain. It wasn’t the most promising start. But against the odds it has been a success. We are a team, cat and human. An already close team which has become closer in lockdown. Not that MasterB knows about the pandemic. But he has become very used to having me around most of the time, has realised that I generally have three meals each day, not the two he was formerly acquainted with, and he now wants three meals a day too. He has given me an emotional support of which he is quite unaware in this time. Watching him has brought me pleasure.
Ten years ago I didn’t really want him. Now I think he’s the best cat in the world.
But for our anniversary we were mainly apart. Gorgeous weather, with blue skies, sunshine and warmth. We have been getting used to blue skies, sunshine and cold cold winds. Celia and I set off to Stratford to walk The Line, a sculpture trail that starts north of the river then ends in Greenwich. The map on the app was rubbish. But the sun shone, we saw two herons in flight, and before we even started our walk Celia got a new strap for her Swatch in the Westfield Shopping Centre. There were serious shoppers. The queue outside Primark was lengthy. Shorter queues, but still impressive, outside shoe shops and mobile phone shops. If I were a shop owner I would be heaving a huge sigh of relief.